What you need to know:
- The WRC Safari Rally ends today at 3pm at Hells Gate after Oserian (17.93km), Hell’s Gate (10.53km) and Narasha (13.30km) which will be repeated twice.
Finland’s Kalle Rovanpera is headed to a resounding victory the 2022 WRC Safari Rally barring any misfortune after opening a 40-second lead over Elfyn Evans as the Safari conclude on Sunday at the Hells Gate Wolf Power Stage where thousands of rally fans have already set up camp.
Rovanpera, 21, has been a revelation of speed, mastery of the roads, especially at the tough Sleeping Warrior stage where a heavy downpour broke hearts and showed the difference between wannabe and the real professionals.
Amaarjit Rai moved to 13th overall and first in the Kenya National Rally Championship category while young Rio Smith, 20, was lying 15th and leading the F2 category in a Ford Fiesta.
Finnish Rovanperä added another 40.3 seconds over Englishman Evans at the WRC Service Park in Naivasha lastSaturday evening.
Belgian Thierry Neuville struggled with limited visibility after clipping a tree branch which cracked the car’s windscreen on the opener and also suffered a soft rear tyre at Sleeping Warrior.
On a day which troubled most of the FIA World Rally Championship’s leading drivers, Rovanperä overcame sickness worries to increase his advantage and headed a Toyota GR Yaris quartet in front of Elfyn Evans.
Championship leader Rovanperä seized the lead of this sixth round late on Friday when team-mate and early pole-sitter Sébastien Ogier stopped to change a wheel. He measured his pace over the morning and was happy to keep a watchful eye on those behind. The afternoon loop was a completely different story.
Downpours in the final pair of stages caused chaos as the dry and dusty roads turned to mud, with grip levels comparable to ice. “It wasn’t great, but it was possible to drive,” he admitted.
“It was hard to see some of the corners, especially in the big braking points, but somehow we managed to have a trouble-free run and get a bit closer to our rivals.”
The time difference in Sunday's rally is massive but minimal should he overshoot a corner as it happened at the Kasarani Super Special Stage on Thursday.
The Toyota Gazoo Racing emerging star capitalised on misfortunes of Japanese Takamoto Katsuta who suffered a puncture but kept going. Kenyan fans, including young boys and girls, welcomed him back to the service park with wild cheers, waving the Kenyan flag.
The Japanese is one minute 25.6 seconds behind, and will try to protect a possible podium from defending champion Ogier in another Toyota with over two minutes' deficit.
It has been a bad outing for the M-Sport Ford Puma team which has suffered a myriad of problems this weekend.
Neuville of Hyundai, who lost the Safari in the last stage last year, was calm in his lead to his Safari Rally Kenya lead Saturday morning to hold tight at the head of a Toyota Gazoo Racing podium lockout. Rovanperä was third-fastest on the opening Soysambu test and set a similar pace with his colleagues to place sixth at Elementaita.
When several drivers hit trouble in the 31.04-kilometre Sleeping Warrior blast, the Finn emerged completely harm-free.
“The feeling is quite good,” said Rovanperä.
“It’s always a bit scary on these rough sections when you are trying to avoid all the rocks.
“I think we need to go with the same pace this afternoon. Let’s see how the conditions are and how rough it is, but we will just try to survive without any issues,” he added.
Evans was Rovanperä’s closest challenger and moved into the runners-up spot on the first stage when Katsuta had a misunderstanding with his pace notes.
Both drivers suffered rock-induced punctures on the final stage, but time loss was minimal and 20.5 seconds separated them at the halt.
In fifth overall was Thierry Neuville.
The Belgian produced one of the drives of the morning and grabbed two stage wins with his Hyundai i20 N, moving up the order when team-mate Ott Tänak pulled over in SS10 with a suspected broken propshaft.
Carl Tundo dropped to 15th as Maxine Wahome continued her good showing in 22nd, and first in the FIA Rally Star programme driving a Ford Fiesta R3.
Hamza Anwar is 24th and Jeremiah Wahome 26th.
Maxine is enroute to scoring maximum points in this category and appear in the WRC points standing.
She starts today with a hefty 14 minutes and 55 seconds over Anwar despite a scare at Soysambu 1 when she experienced a computer issue in her Ford Fiesta Rally, losing six minutes.
Kimathi struck a rock in the line on the same stage at the 15km mark, damaging rear and front suspensions and retiring.
He hopes to rejoin the rally today chasing valuable junior category points ahead of Estonia and Greece WRC rounds after the Safari.
The WRC Safari Rally ends today at 3pm at Hells Gate after Oserian (17.93km), Hell’s Gate (10.53km) and Narasha (13.30km) which will be repeated twice.